Syrian in forced marriage attempt charged with Malta’s first honour crime

Man remanded in custody after allegedly beating his teenage daughter and trying to force her into an arranged marriage

“Help me, please help me,” were the first words a 15-year-old girl told the police when they stormed her house to arrest her father, who was charged earlier today with Malta’s first ‘honour crime’.

The man, from Syria, was remanded in custody after allegedly beating his 15-year-old daughter and trying to force her into an arranged marriage.

The Hamrun resident, whose name is banned from publication in order to protect the child victim, appeared before Magistrate Joe Mifsud on Thursday morning.

Inspector John Spiteri charged him with causing the child to fear violence, cruelty and mistreatment, slightly injuring his daughter, attempting to force his daughter to marry someone, threatening her, exceeding the limits of reasonable chastisement and breaching bail.

Defence counsel Peter Paul Zammit entered a plea of not guilty on the man’s behalf and requested bail.

Inspector Spiteri told magistrate Joseph Mifsud how two days ago, the police had been informed of the case through Facebook and had immediately gone to her residence. “The girl herself had opened the door and her first words to the police were ‘help me, please help me,’” Spiteri said.

The child’s arms were badly bruised, recalled the inspector. She would be badly beaten for trivial infractions, such as taking out the garbage without wearing her hijab, he explained.

Besides continuous beatings there was the allegation that the accused had wanted her to marry a certain individual, Spiteri told the court, adding that the accused had denied any wrongdoing.

From the moment the girl was questioned, this individual had switched off his mobile phone and could not be traced, added the inspector.

Police investigations had revealed that not only had the girl reported violence, but also one of his sons had reported beatings to police and Aġenzija Appoġġ.

The girl is now under Aġenzija Appoġġ’s care.

Defending the accused, Zammit argued that the mental state of the alleged victim was not being taken into account. The family had left Syria for Europe with the child suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder for which she is being heavily medicated, Zammit said.

Besides this, he added, “we have a situation where the father could not even beat her if he wanted to, as he’s working seven days a week.”

“There are issues… some of the injuries are self-inflicted. The victim has a history of self-harm,” he said. Zammit argued that not granting bail to the father would cause the whole family to suffer as he was the sole breadwinner.

Malta’s first honour crime

Inspector Spiteri retorted that the victim had gone to a psychiatrist but her father was stopping her from taking medication “to allow her to have children.”

In his decree on bail the Magistrate explained the seriousness of honour crimes, quoting from several authors on the topic.

The accused’s alleged behaviour fell within the spectrum of an honour crime, noted the court.

It quoted Hannana Siddiqui, a sociologist and author of a book on honour crimes, who defined the term as “one of a range of violent or abusive acts committed in the name of ‘honour’ including emotional, physical or sexual abuse and other controlling and coercive behaviours such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation which can end, in some extreme cases in suicide or murder.”

Reference was also made to European Court of Human Rights judgment K. vs Slovakia, which crystallized the State’s positive obligation to safeguard life of identified individuals from “real and immediate risk” of criminal acts of a third party.

Within the ambit of culture and religion, the court said that it was not permissible to force anyone to wear one type of clothing and not another or to marry one person and not another. “In our country we have the choice to wear what we like and if we decide to get married we do so through free choice to the person we love and not through arranged or forced marriages.”

It was not permissible to allow forced marriage, repeated the magistrate. “This may be permissible in other cultures, but not in Malta.”

Likewise on the issue of breach of bail, the court said it could not treat the matter lightly lest it give the impression that people are allowed to ignore a court’s orders.

Bail was denied.

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